tv The American Spirit CSPAN September 23, 2017 9:00am-9:56am EDT
>> i was so worried. [applause] >> i was so worried. it was raining, and i thought booklovers are going to want to stay in bed and read. but here you are. thank you and good morning. [applause] >> and welcome to the 2017 national book festival. i am carla hayden and i'm the 14th library and of congress.
as you can see, as you can see, i am pretty excited to open this event, our 17th consecutive celebration of books and reading and it is wonderful to see a bold house in our largest presentation space. not only do we have a full house here at the convention center but we also have millions of people joining us live on facebook. thanks to everyone for joining us. we have a fantastic lineup of authors this year and what better way to kick off the festival then with one of our nation's most beloved historians, mister david mccullough. [applause] >> david mccullough is here for
his sixth national book festival appearance, we hope you will continue to make this a habit. he will be followed by diana, the author of the wildly successful outlander series and she is here for her fourth festival. next is jd vance. it has struck accord in the national conversation about poverty in america. thomas friedman barely needs an introduction. [applause] >> he is an internationally recognized writer on the middle east, foreign affairs and the
environment. michael lewis is famous for his books about finance such as liars poker but equally famous for his books about topics as diverse as adoption and baseball. his screen adaptations of the blindside and moneyball among others have been enormously popular. condoleezza rice. [applause] >> was the secretary of state of the united states, she is now on the faculty of stanford university traveling from california to be with us today. finally, mister david bell dodgy is back for a record-setting eighth time at the national book festival. his thrillers and books for young people have been read by
millions. i am very pleased to be able to turn this over to the person who has helped make this festival possible, our cochair, mister david rubenstein. [applause] >> a true believer in the power of literacy and reading and what it can do for all of us. it would not have been possible to have this event without you, thank you. [applause] >> so please welcome to the stage mister david mccullough and mister david rubenstein. [applause]
[inaudible conversations] >> our first national book festival, how many here were at the first one? anybody? how many have been to everyone? this is the first time? okay. how many people like the price of admission? [laughter] >> we are honored to have david mccullough. let me give a brief background,
david is a native of pittsburgh book, grew up as -- okay, grew up as one of four boys in a family where his father had a small electrical supply company come in not quite general electric but very impressive. david went to yale where he graduated in 1955. he then went to new york. did not go back to pittsburgh but despite his parents interest in doing so, went to new york doing sports illustrated, a new publication and ultimately came to work in washington at usia and got interested in something he was interested in from his time in pittsburgh book, the johnstown club, and wrote his first book about the johnstown club which was a bestseller. that was his first book. he has written with this book we
will talk about today, "the american spirit: who we are and what we stand for," has written 11 books, is working on his 12th book we will talk about shortly, every single one of his books is still in print which is very unusual. his first book is almost 50 years old. [applause] >> david has won the bill is a priced way for his books on harry truman and john adams, won the national book prize, has been given the presidential medal of freedom by bill clinton, he has been asked to speak to a joint session of congress and given virtually every onerous citizen can get, and also given 55 honorary degrees which must be a record. that is very impressive but more impressive is he has five children, 19 grandchildren and the love of his life rosalie is here, his wife of 63 years, stand up.
[applause] >> okay. did you ever think when you were growing up in the pittsburgh that you would be the most famous chronicler of american history? >> of course. >> you did? >> i never imagined such a thing. >> what was your vision of the young boy in pittsburgh? what did you want to do? >> i wanted to get good grades in school but not to spend too much of my time worrying about that. then i got interested in girls and that took a lot of my thoughts and preparation and once i got to college i knew i either wanted to be an artist or a writer or an architect or an
actor but i couldn't make up my mind. so when i finished college i thought i know what i will do, i will go to new york and see what happens. i went to new york and a lot happened. >> did your family say go to new york or go back to pittsburgh? >> my father up to my second or third book said now it is time to come back to pittsburgh and get a real job. never understood. i go back to pittsburgh all the time and very grateful i grew up when i did at that time in that city. it was a lesson in history in itself. it was a stimulation for the arts and literature, the principal by school in school, public school, one of the founders of the first pbs
station in america. ktk was the first radio station in america and i was invited to do a little voiceover for kdka when i was in high school, that interested me. >> you went to sports illustrated. that is not american history, very nice publication, what do you work on? >> guest: i worked in circulation promotion department. we had these tests mailings they called them where they would write four or five letters to people asking them to take an interest in this new magazine. i asked if i could contribute a competitor and was told yes but you have to do it on your own time, don't waste office time doing that. a 10 year job, i was a trainee.
i wrote the letter and submitted it and they decided to use it and won the test. from that point on, i was looking good but the thing in sports illustrated was brand-new and nobody knew where it was going or how to make it go. it was a very exciting time. the whole spirit of the city was amazing. i went to work for $5000 a year. they allowed me an extra $10 a week because i was married. stereotype for women was not just salaries but expressed in other ways too. i also found how many wonderful women were working there and later when i came to washington i found the best people i ever worked with in my life for women at the us information agency.
what happened when kennedy ran i thought this is exciting, he was going to make a difference, give us a chance to take part. when he gave his magnificent inaugural address said ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country, i took that entirely too hard. i quit my job. i knew no one in the kennedy crowd or the government, i came down, went door-to-door looking for some place in the federal government where my training and education would be appropriate and wound up as luck would have it, luck is a big factor not just in our lives but history, not sufficiently paid attention to, as luck would have it i ended up working at the usia, with edward r murrow to be the director. it was a very exciting time.
it stayed exciting for three years until the president was killed. during that time, i happened to be in the library of congress doing some research for articles that include the magazine i was editing. and chanced upon a big table at the library in the princeton photographs division of photographs taken at johnstown right after the famous disastrous flood in 1889. i had heard about the flood all my life but knew nothing about it and i looked at those photographs and saw the devastating destruction and couldn't believe my eyes. i thought what happened? so i took a book out of the library which was okay but the author didn't understand the geography of western pennsylvania which i did understand. i took another book out of the
library, it was full of inaccuracies. when i was in college, i had the good fortune to cross paths with thornton wilder, the great playwright and novelist. he was asked why do you write the plays you do, the subjects you choose, why do you write the novels you do? he said i imagine a story i would like to be able to read. if i find nobody has written it so i can see it on stage or read it in a book, i write it myself so i can read it or see it performed on stage. and i why don't you write the book you could read about the jamestown flood - johnstown flood? as soon as i started that book i
knew this was what i wanted to do for the rest of my life. >> host: team did you quit your job at usia? >> guest: when kennedy was killed i was asked to come back to new york to work the american heritage, wonderful history magazine which was published with hardcovers and no advertising. bruce gatton was the editor. and exciting, marvelous, adventurous time. i worked there for six years and i wrote the johnstown flood at night and on weekends for three years, carrying on my job as usual. after i had written the book and after i had gotten the idea for the next book, building the brooklyn bridge, i thought i have got to quit and see if i can do it full-time. because i was married, and married to a very great wonderful woman -- [applause] -- she said if that is what you
want to do, we will do it. we had no outside income, all we had was advance on the new book. after my johnstown book was published, several other publishers came to me, one wanted me to do the chicago fire and the other wanted me to do the san francisco earthquake. i was hardly 30 years old and always being typecast as bad news mccullough and i didn't like that. i wanted a symbol of affirmation, a symbol of positive affirmation. i must say it took the a wild to come up with the idea but where do you get your ideas? i get them from all over the place and i was having lunch with two friends. one was a science writer, the other an engineer. they started talking about all
the builders of the brooklyn bridge didn't know they were in for when they set out to do it. and i thought there is my subject. i came out of that lunch on the lower east side, went to new york public library straight up the stairs, the marble stairs, the card catalog, the old card catalog days, hold out the drawer and there were over 50 cards on the subject of the brooklyn bridge, but not one describing a book i already intended to write. i know this was it. on the basis of that idea and willingness of my publisher, simon & schuster to give me an advance that i was able to stop working full-time and never
changed publishers. if i was loyal and faithful to them. >> so -- you might describe as you described elsewhere, your wife is involved in helping you, can you describe how you do that? >> i have been confessing to this truth. i only took the history courses, i always believed one out to write for the year as well as
the eye. you begin to hear words you are using too often, you begin to hear sentence structures that become repetitious, and you hear when you are starting to be boring. i had two or three before writers help me along the way, conrad richter, great novelist whose work is beyond imagining. paul harvey, wonderful writer. and a brilliant wonderful band, and you have to cut back. you have to write and rewrite. and they sometimes reads a chapter three or four times.
and -- may i tell the story. there's something wrong with that sentence. read it again, she read it again. i said there's nothing wrong with that sentence. and i read it aloud, and she said there's something wrong with that sentence. just keep going please. she kept going and i didn't do anything about that, the book went to the publisher, the publisher published it, they came out and got wonderful reviews in the new york review of books by gore for doll.
he was about to end the review, sometimes he doesn't write very well. consider this sentence. [applause] >> some historians do a lot -- you do something, research and write. >> one thing i never undertake. if i knew all about it i didn't want to write the book. it would not be an adventure. each subject is a new experience. i'm setting foot on a continent i have never been to before working on a new detective case. i don't want to know that yet.
i want to be with them, know them, be inside their time, you have to get in the other time. this is not about statistics, and boring quotation, but about people, human beings, when in the course of human events we have to put ourselves in the shoes of those other people knowing the life they lived was like, the hardships they faced the we don't have to think about. and how spoiled we are that we owe all to them but don't bother to know who they were.
it is not right. i do the research as i go along. you have to ask questions all the time. where was he what was he or she worried about. you have to keep learning more about the original sources. unpublished memoirs and the like. and in the library of congress, they are all in the library of congress, and read those letters, those two young fellows to come up in a house with no running water, no indoor
plumbing, no central heat, no telephone, 10 of them in this room, tiny little house full of books. their father insisted they all read, and read above their level. those letters that they wrote express what he drummed into them, learn how to use the english language on paper and on your feet. there handling -- is breathtaking and they never even finished high school. when i see the writing produced by college students today, when i learned that nearly half of law schools in our country are requiring incoming freshman who were college graduates to take a basic writing course because
they cannot write a presentable letter. and the work they were have to do. we have to knuckle down, their learning how to write and read with concentration and understanding and teaching history. i lecture or teach at and raising young people, by and large historically illiterate. it is not their fault. the brightest people i ever met were some of the students, we have to stimulate curiosity, ask
was a manual. i bought a secondhand royal typewriter which was 25 years old. i have written everything i have ever written, every speech, every article, every book on that typewriter for over 50 years, nothing wrong with it and there never has been. the notion of planned obsolescence in the minds of manufacturers of that machine. it is fantastic. why this typewriter? why not a word processor? it goes too fast, i don't think all that fast but if you hit the wrong button you can eliminate months of work.
i have a friend, bill fowler, very good historian, very good book writer, lost 5000 words because he had the wrong button. i love to take the paper out of the typewriter, and and with the machine, never see that again. the only other devoted typewriter man that i know is tom hanks. he writes all his letters and everything on a typewriter. he has what must be the world's
greatest typewriter collection. he understands perfectly why i work on a typewriter. and i urge others to do it. i urge others to remember how much work goes into writing a book. >> host: i think robert caro uses a typewriter. how many words do you do a day? >> guest: in the old days when i was full of beans i would do four pages a day, now i try to do two pages a day. two pages a day is ten pages a week, and i'm often asked how much of my time i spend writing and how much of my time i spend
doing research. >> how much time do you spend thinking? what is the answer? what is the answer? >> guest: a lot. if you were looking in the window you might think that guy is asleep. >> in one of my roles at the smithsonian, >> let's talk about this book. you have written 10 books before, this is your 11th book. you talked about your 12th book for five years in 2019, this is a compilation of your >> and honorary degree commencement talks. you have gotten 55 honorary
degrees. >> the setting of every talk, you know something about the university or college where you are speaking or invited to speak at the white house or capital, you have to do the homework. i do a lot of research, very conscientious, what i'm saying will go on the record. >> host: let's talk about these speeches, highly readable book, i highly recommended and let's talk about one of the first speeches, you were asked to give a speech to the joint session of congress, few private citizens are ever asked to do that. how did that come about and what did you talk about with members of congress? >> there was a gathering of
historians and biographers that spoke at a conference at the library of congress and after that was over when it came time for the bicentennial, 1989, i was asked to give a shorter version of the speech i gave at that gathering of the library of congress. >> members of congress don't like long speeches. >> guest: i was afraid i would run away with my excitement and go on forever. it was a high honor. i work extremely hard on preparing this. >> host: you talk about john quincy adams who was a member of congress for 20 years later after he left the presidency. talk about him and talk about
that. >> guest: john quincy adams had been a diplomat serving in several diplomatic posts, very important to poetic posts. he had been a senator and president of the united states. after he left the presidency he was asked if he would run for congress, he said certainly. he went back and served in congress until his death. he died on the floor of congress. what is now statuary hall, a little home to the side. he died in harnesses there. he didn't have to do that. he didn't have to be a congressman as he was. he had a mission not only to represent as best he could his constituency in massachusetts but to represent the country and more than that, the
constituency. and he was ardently against slavery. he was battling slavery on the floor of congress until the day he fell down and died a few days later. talk about devotion, talk about integrity, talk about truth and honesty and loyalty. his father, john adams, was the only founding father president who never owned a slave. out of principle. his wife abigail was even more adamant on the subject. the next president who never owned a slave was john quincy adams. it ran in the family, dedication to public service, better than family. also brilliant, he was
interested in everything, spoke many languages. he was in many ways he may have had the highest iq, the most versatile mind of anyone including the greats among the founders. as chance would have it he was a one term president and one term presidents don't get the attention the others do. >> host: let me ask about another president. you spoke on the fourth of july of immigration and naturalization cemetery at monticello which is held every fourth of july, thomas jefferson's home, thomas jefferson gave the decree that all men are created equal, he wrote the preamble to the declaration of independence but how do you square that with the fact that he was a slave owner and how did you address the issue? how did he address that issue? he was a slave owner who thought all men were created equal? >> i don't, i can't, i don't
understand it nor do i understand the fact that he destroyed every letter he wrote to his wife and every letter she ever wrote to him. we know nothing, we don't even know what she looked like. i can't understand that. i can't understand that he kept a very close track of every sense, every time he ever spent on anything, financial records, but never added it up. >> host: that was why he was probably bankrupt. >> guest: he was never out of debt from the time he was a young man, just kept spending. i don't understand it. i also don't understand where did that genius come from. the man was a genius. if he was nothing but an architect, that alone would qualify him to be somebody we should all know about. and he served a brilliant
service that all men are created equal, he also said something that has not been sufficiently played up and given sufficient credit for for, that is his absolute belief in education. any nation that expect the ignorant and free expects what never was and never can be. we have to be educated, we have to be literate, we have to understand there are no easy answers to big problems and so forth, nobody has solutions to big problems have to be worked out. i wish i had the chance to know him. >> host: if all the people you had written about, john adams, harry truman, john quincy adams, thomas jefferson, if you could have dinner with any one
president who is not alive who would you like to have dinner with? >> john adams. of the 19 john adams? >> guest: so many questions i want to ask him. >> host: deal let's talk about john adams. you gave a speech in massachusetts, talked a lot about john adams. of the founding fathers he was a little less attention than george washington, thomas jefferson, james madison, why do so few people pay that much attention and why there is still no monument to john adams in washington dc? >> yes there is. it is on the mantelpiece at the white house. do you know about that? >> host: i don't. >> guest: john adams was the first president to reside in the white house. his first night he was alone, abigail had not arrived yet, the next morning, after the first night, he wrote her a letter in
which he said, what he wrote in the letter, franklin roosevelt had carved in the wooden part of the mantelpiece in the east room, the dining room. when truman was in charge of redoing the white house, he made sure the quotation stayed there. when kennedy became president he had it carved into the marble so it would stay forever. what adams had said in the letter to abigail was this. none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof. [applause] >> guest: i think it is very important, very important, to understand, to about, he put
honesty first ahead of wisdom. honesty. >> guest: in your product -- pulitzer prize-winning book on john adams which was made into an hbo series and won a lot of awards, you went through 1000 letters between john adams and abigail adams. have you ever experienced any like that between a husband and wife before and what struck you is so unusual about those letters? >> guest: the quality of the use of the was labeled, the quality of the use of the mind, how well read they both were. john adams advised his young son, about 10 years old, you serve as a diplomat. he said you will never be alone if you have a poet in your pocket.
carry a book and that was part of the relationship or attitude toward life. they were incredible readers and abigail was right there. her letters are phenomenal. >> host: she was not apologetic. >> guest: she never went to college, never went to school, she was tutored at home, but never stopped reading. she was brave and patriotic and put up with incredible difficulties, running the family, running the household, tried to stay afloat financially. and those children are raised by her in a way they would never forget. the dinner party you are asking me about, i would definitely want abigail adams there. i would definitely want catherine wright, the sister of
the wright brothers. you can't understand what they did and how they did it if you don't understand the part played by catherine wright and she was something. she kept at some, made them toe the line and behave themselves in a way that we all need. >> host: you made a speech at dartmouth and are two people featured, one was teddy roosevelt who wrote a book not about his presidency but the time he left new york in the east and went west, why did you find that an appealing part of his life and what was the most important lesson you took from that book? >> guest: theodore roosevelt is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. he was a child who is not expected to live, suffered terribly from seizures, asthma,
which were life-threatening, he was afraid of everything, fearful of everything. he outgrew it, and he outgrew it by facing adversity. he took hold of himself, and worked hard at it all the way through college into life. his father after death is a devastating experience for him. then his wife and his mother died on the same day, and he was shattered then and that is when he went west. this idea of going west is so american, it is a way of healing, a way of escaping. and written profoundly about
it. and fighting history, bringing history into the dialogue to the executive office again and again and again. >> in the darkness speech, talked about harry truman and another pulitzer prize-winning book. why was harry truman so unpopular when he left the presidency but now everybody's favorite president, what changed since he left the presidency other than your book? >> it began before i wrote the book. i grew up in an old-fashioned republican family. the night of the 48 election i was a high school student, i was interested in politics, as some of you may know or remember, the final tally didn't coming until 2:00 in the morning and i couldn't stay up that late.
my father was shaving the next morning and i went in and said who won? he said truman, like the end of the world. 20, 30 years later i was back home and we were having a chat after dinner, he started in on how the world was going to hell in the country was going to hell. he paused and said too battle harry isn't still in the white house. [laughter] >> harry truman is a great american story. if there ever was and he is ted harry truman. he wanted to go in on its own.
and he never gave up. george washington in 1776 had every reason in the world to say that. he would not give up. the wright brothers never gave up. they had many reasons -- they wouldn't give up. >> host: the talk about never giving up, you gave a speech at ohio university. and what was different from the northwest territories, at the
commencement, some think about ohio university. and the oldest building on campus is color all. i thought who is cutler? it was the oldest -- i was told it was the oldest university college building west of the allegheny mountains. he was a classic 18th-century polymath. he was a doctor. a medical doctor, lawyer. and you revolutionary war
vendors, one way to compensate would be new northwest territories, proceeded to the country by the british, and the treaty in paris. and belong to the government, this man cutler was picked by these offices from the war. and sold on the idea of creating a northwest territory, they had not lobbied anything, the word lobbyist or lobbying hadn't entered the language yet. he had never been to new york, never been out of new england
and off he went to new york to convince the continental congress, there was no constitution yet, to go ahead with it. summer of 1877, they put the ordinance through. he did it, one man, he did it and the ordinance stipulates three things of immense importance, one of the most important bills ever passed by congress even before we had a president. one, there would be complete freedom of religion, absolute complete freedom of religion, never 2, the government would be involved in education. and there would be no slavery. what that meant was this territory was as big as all of
the 13 colonies. the wilderness and buyer would be free to everyone. all you had to do was get across the ohio river, the northwest territory, north and west of the ohio river now constitutes the states of ohio, indiana, illinois, michigan and wisconsin. it is as big as all of france, no slavery. half of the country would be no slavery. imagine, with one vote of congress the one man put it through. i never knew anything about it. i go back to show thornton wilder. thornton wilder was once asked. where he got his ideas and so
forth. i still love to see it. and see if i can get you into the tent without relying on celebrities. none of the territories, all the letters and diaries, in marietta, ohio. but it was as if i came to king ted's tumor or something but and what they talk about and what they reveal and the adversities they face. >> as we wind down the time available two final questions. what is the great pleasure of your life today?
looking back on what you achieved, is it exposing these things, they know about our history, what is the greatest pleasure of your life. >> being an american. [applause] >> host: when people talk about you, the legacy you would like to have left behind, not that you are leaving anytime soon but what is the legacy would be most proud of having achieved? >> he tried to do his best. >> host: you have done a terrific job. final thing about the library of congress is the place you have done research, how important is the library of congress to you? >> the library of congress is indispensable for me professionally but i also see it
as a shrine on our acropolis devoted to the idea of education and it is available to all. our whole public library system is something that is a miracle of american creation. [applause] >> the library of congress is the greatest library in the world. we did it. if you ever get down about american culture, you might like to remember there's more public libraries in this country than there are starbucks. [laughter and applause] >> host: thank you very much for the conversation. >> guest: thank you very much.